The ERASMUS + Experience

I first became aware of the Erasmus programme (EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) as a CPD option for staff, was when I hosted a week long visit to the University of Edinburgh for a Learning Technologist from University College Cork in Ireland in January 2015 (in fact it was only in 2014/15 scheme was extended to non-academic staff). Our department also had a visitor last summer, a Learning Technologist from an Italian University. I always enjoy meeting visitors – I love hearing about their work and learning about the institution where they work. These conversations are always inspiring and help me to see my institution with fresh eyes.

On the 29th of August 2017 I went to an event at the University of Edinburgh (where I work) called “Go Abroad – Staff opportunities” to find out more about participating. The ERASMUS scheme offers funding for week-long training visits for professional services staff –  within Europe you could apply to spend time at any institution and I discovered that there was also an extended scheme for visits outside Europe, through the International Credit Mobility programme, to spend time with specific partner institutions.


I was really excited by the opportunity this scheme offered and started thinking about my role and interests and possible destinations to identify a suitable match. In September 2017 (after discussing this with my line manger) I submitted my application to visit the University of Virginia.  I am currently running a scheme at the University of Edinburgh to support staff undertaking their Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) a professional development opportunity for staff working with learning technology. I proposed to make this visit to explore Institutional approaches to Staff Development for IT staff (specifically learning technology) and to make connections with others working in this area.


As I didn’t know anyone at UVa I was matched with my host through the Go Abroad scheme contacts for both institutions. John Alexander from UVa very kindly agreed to host me in his department SHANTI Sciences, Humanities & Arts Network of Technological Initiatives. John was equally inspired by the possibilities of a study visit and applied to make a visit to the University of Edinburgh in June 2018 (more about this in a later post).

To coordinate my visit John & I initially used email and later set up a shared google doc – I sent John some information about my work and interests and he contacted relevant people and set up meetings for me. This meant I had a good idea of the shape of my week of activities before I arrived.


Virginia viewed out of a plane window
Virginia viewed out of a plane window.

This was my first visit to the US, so this section will not be relevant to seasoned travelers! As it was my first visit and I’m a UK Citizen before I went I need to apply for an ESTA as part of the Visa waiver Program.

In order to make it to my destination the day before my visit started, I left home in Edinburgh early on the Sunday morning, flew direct to Newark then to Washington DC, then to Charlottesville. Three flights in the one day was a lot, and I’ve since discovered that there are some direct flights from Edinburgh to Washington DC – so I’d recommend taking a good look at options before you book.

I was allocated the window seat on all my flights, which was great for the short trips with a view – but very cramped for the long haul flight – so I’d avoid this if possible when travelling again.


The Lorna Sundberg International Centre
The Lorna Sundberg International Centre

I was very lucky to have been able to book a room in the beautiful Lorna Sundberg Center  which was on the edge of the campus. This was suggested by my contact in the International office at UVA , along with other options such as the campus hotel.

I was attracted to the centre with it’s friendly feel and self catering facilities it seemed like a ‘home from home’, it is used for cultural activities and is has a number of rooms that can be booked by international visitors. During my time there I met people from Japan and France, most of whom were making longer visits, 6 weeks to a few months. It was great being able to cook for myself and to relax in the quiet library and study spaces and to sit out on the Veranda. I even found time to do some drawings.

A felt pen drawing of the View from the Veranda at the Lorna Sudberg Centre
The View from the Veranda at the Lorna Sundberg Centre


Making the most of the trip

While its really exciting to get the chance to go on this trip, it did take place in addition to my usual work and required me to plan my activities carefully to allow for me to be out of the office for a week. So it was hard to find time to devote to preparing for the trip before I went (hence the booking three flights rather than looking at alternatives!).  Ideally I would suggest spending more time on this. Also, despite putting in an application in November it takes time to put the contacts in place with the other institution and to finalise the visit dates.  By the time this is all in place it was about six weeks before I was due to travel – so time was of the essence!

This was my first trip of this distance so it was also my first experience of jet lag – which surprised me by hitting me much harder than I expected. The 5 hour difference doesn’t seem that much on paper but in practice really knocked my body clock I was surprised when I found myself slurring during a late afternoon meeting on my first day (fortunately the people I was meeting were very understanding). Don’t over schedule your activities and allow some time between meetings for ‘processing’ and adjusting.

I also took time to get my bearings around the campus. I would find my way to the right building, then take 15 minutes trying to find the entrance (yes, this really happened – twice!). I was late for a couple of meetings which anyone who know me will know is unusual as I tend to be habitually early. I took my paper map everywhere, used google maps to estimate journey times and then doubled them. I’d sussed the layout of the main campus by my final day.

Tips if you are considering making an training visit

Preparation – Think about what you will say when you meet people, how you will describe your work and what questions are you interested in asking? there is defiantly room for going off topic and seeing where the conversation leads, but most of the people I met has squeezed an hour to meet into a busy day and its good to make the most of this.  One person I was meeting got in contact in advance to ask me more about my areas of interest and we had a quick pre-chat by email and our resulting meeting was really constructive. If I were to do this again I’d write a couple of paragraphs introducing myself and give this to my host, or send this to people  before we met.

Go with a question. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything that’s going on in another institution. I found it really helpful to focus on one main thing during my visit – for me it was how does UVa approach to Staff Development for IT staff (specifically learning technology).

Travelling is exhausting – don’t overestimate what you will be capable of when you arrive. This is not like walking into an institution you know well – its disconcerting and takes energy getting to know a new place.

Saying Thank You- I took a gift from my institution for my host and small gifts for people I met with. It would have been useful to have remembered to bring thank you cards but after some exploring I was able to buy these on campus.

Follow up afterwards, I’ve not been great as this (yet) but I do mean to follow up with everyone who was kind enough to take time to speak to me to thank them and to share the outputs from my visit.

Innovations in Pedagogy Summit, UVa – Wednesday 2nd May 2018

A photo of my name badge and the programme for the Innovations In Pedagogy Summit UVa
Innovations In Pedagogy Summit UVa

I attended a conference “Innovations in Pedagogy Summit”  at the University of Virginia as part of an ERASMUS training visit to the University of Virginia. This is an annual conference for UVa staff organised by the Center for Teaching for Teaching Excellence. The theme was “Creating Inclusive Classrooms: Shifting from Thinking to Doing”.  The welcome by Archie Holmes Jr (Vice Provost for Academic Affairs) framed the day by defining ‘Critical Inclusive Teaching’ as “…deliberately cultivating a learning environment where all students are treated equitably, have equal access to learning, and feel welcome, valued and supported in their learning.”

Newcomb Hall - a red brick building against a clear blu esky
Newcomb Hall
A slide titled: Critical Inclusive Teaching
Critical Inclusive Teaching – on the left is Michael Palmer Director of the Centre for Teaching Excellence










The keynote presentation for this was a theatrical performance ” 7 into 15″

by the the University of Michigan’s CRLT Players.

We watched a cast of students actors performing scenarios around experiences of inclusion. This was framed by an excellent facilitator who set groud rules for our participation (see below)  and got us to work through a series of reflective exercises around each piece.

Invitations to Interaction

  • Share responsibility for including all voices in the discussion.
  • Do not ask others to act as a spokesperson. (for a particular group)
  • Listen carefully even if you disagree.
  • You are encouraged to hold each other accountable.
  • Work to be open to feedback.
  • Engage in self-care.

This was really powerful, the students were excellent performers and there was something much more real about watching the scenarios acted out by students who could ‘be’ the characters they are playing.

I felt myself reacting personally to watching the young woman’s contribution being casually belittled by a well meaning professor. ‘Oh’ I thought ‘That’s how is happens’ – I recognise that.

In another sketch – a young man was asked by his German language teacher to say a sentence about who he loved – when he referred to the person loved as ‘he’ – the teacher corrected the gender to ‘she’. But the student hadn’t made a mistake.

I vividly remember the sketch in which an Asian man expresses his inner dialogue when confronted with engaging with the aggressive discussion style of a US tutorial.

It was very moving and thought provoking watching a young Black man reacting to the barrage of ‘microagressions’ – ranging from misplaced humour to outright abuse he received over a period of time.

There was something very different about watching real people perform than there might have been from hearing the scenarios read out or watching videos. Having the student performers in the room was an  important part of this experience.

It was also interesting for me to be an outsider in that event – not knowing the rest of the participants made it a great deal easier, and some of it was uncomfortable. It must have been very intense to be part of for the UVa staff.  I don’t think I’ve attended anything at my own institution that has addressed homophobia, sexism or racism in such a direct way.


A circle of people sit across the room as I look down at the Tree of Contemplative Practices
Tree of Contemplative Practices – (see the full image online).

Contemplative Practices for Building Inclusive Classrooms

Juliet Trail, Zaida Villanueva Garcis, Ran Zhao, Fred Maus

I walked into the room to find the chairs arranged in a wide circle – which is a change from many of the front facing sessions that I’ve attended at conferences. At this session we experienced three contemplative practices and discussed how these could be used in teaching. For the first was an activity we were invited to stand up and to pass a coin round a group from the backs of hands in silence. We were asked to be aware of our bodies and to consider how we felt as the coin neared us, during the hand over and as it moved on. (for me: nervous anticipation, fear of embarrassment if I dropped the coin, followed by relief as it moved on).  It was interesting to draw my attention to my feelings (stronger than I’d anticipated for a straightforward activity) and to feel connected to this larger group – particularly relevant as I was a visitor.

We then had a meditation session while listening to music – which was less successful for me as I was very self-conscious (and a wee bit bored – but I do struggle a bit with slowing down). The third activity was about practicing compassion to myself and others – meditating with my hand on my heart being aware of the flow of breath – in for me – out for others.  At the end of the session we were encouraged to write down our reflections about the experience and then to think about how this approach could be used in practice.  This is interesting to me as I personally value contemplative practices like mindful meditation and yoga but have never considered using them in my own teaching context. I left the session feeling grounded and energised so my experience as a participant was good. It leaves me thinking about how and where I could use this technique in my own teaching?

Contemplative Sciences Center University of Virginia 

Rows of Orange lunch boxes lined up on a table
Box Lunches

Excellent “box lunches” were provided in bright orange (UVa colour) boxes. These were both delicious and highly practical, as you could eat them inside or outside in the sunshine.

Writing Across the Disciplines: Reflective Writing Bridges Between Differences

John Alexander, SHANTI, University of Virginia

My final session was also a practical, an interactive writing session with John Alexander who was my host for my visit to UVa. Here is how he described his approach in using reflective writing with his students:

“Reflective writing is transformative for my students, bolstering agency and more holistic and intuitive growth and creativity. And when that writing is done in a blog accessible to everyone in the class, the ferment of the learning community accelerates. Process-oriented writing expands and deepens connections both to self and others, which works effectively for students from all schools and disciplines and in working across differences. This has significant implications for students’ meaning-making and identity formation since it welcomes them where they are in their individual development. This practical approach nurtures authentic presence and deep listening.”

As a group we wrote short reflective pieces of writing to prompts John provided.

We started with a 5 minute writing prompt: Write about something that is currently meaningful to you.  What does it feel like in your body mind and spirit to do that activity?

We then discussed the process of our writing as a group. Highlights of the discussion  for me were:

‘writing is generative – the writing takes you to your ideas’

‘I write to feel – for me it’s part of resilience’ – to be in touch with emotions

The next writing prompt was:

Writing Prompt – How would you apply what you have learned here to your own writing or teaching practice or both?

We then discussed as a group what we had written:

Everyone thought it was important to get people used to writing in the first person (especially in academia).

The prompts used are important,  they are like the focal point of a meditation. A few interesting options:

  • What touched you?
  • What surprised you?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • How do you hope to be different by the end of this session?
  • Prompts that are not task oriented.

Reflection is transformative in several ways, it opens a door for us to be more in touch with ourselves and with others.


This conferences was really well structured and paced, running from registration at 8 am and closing at 2.30 pm. The sessions I attended were well structured and interactive, and plenty of time was allowed for the the sessions and for networking at registration and lunch. It was a pleasure to take part as I  write this a couple of months after I attended I realise how much of it has stayed with me.

Reflecting on reflection part 2 – the lens metaphor

I don’t remember where I first heard the ‘lens’ metaphor (probably my PG Cert in Professional Education, 2007)  but I do remember being very confused by it initially.  Others referred to using a “different lens” and I just nodded – as I’d no idea what they meant!  But once I’d read more – the idea clicked – and it’s a really useful metaphor – but only once someone has clearly explained what it means (and I’m not sure this has happened for all the people I support to understand “reflective”).

My current understanding is that the ‘lens’ metaphor is based on the concept that vision is altered as you look through a lens, for example through glasses or a magnifying glass – depending on the lens used – text that was unreadable can become clear or distant objects become sharp. Metaphorically this is the idea that applying a ‘lens’ can allow you to ‘see’ something that was previously invisible to you. Like most metaphors you can only stretch it so far – the ‘lens’ you apply are not made of glass rather they are other ways of understanding such as from the view of a particular theory. For example Brookfield (2017) offers four lenses available to any teacher: students’ eyes, colleagues’ perceptions, personal experience, and theory.  The part of the metaphor the  that really confused me initially was the idea that that the ‘lens’  is not a physical distortion as through glass or plastic but rather a mental re-framing informed by a new perspective  and can come from different sources as Brookfield (2017) suggests.  I think talking about the ‘lens’ metaphor would be useful with my CMALT group, particularly if I give the examples Brookfield (2017) offers because it can help you to consider different view points and to think about integrating literature and personal experience. To extend the metaphor – the ‘lens’ is a tool that can be turned in different directions and used for investigation – its less passive than that mirror for reflection – it encourages proactive investigation.

While searching to find more about the origins of the lens metaphor, I found McKnight &  Whitburn (2017)  which critiques the ‘lens’ metaphor and more broadly the work of Lakoff  and Johnson  (2003). McKnight &  Whitburn (2017) critique the lens metaphor within the broader visual metaphor observing that the term ‘blind’ is used in educational theory to refer to something not known as in ‘blind spot’ they refer to this as “the troubling construction of augmented vision as knowledge and blindness as ignorance” and point out that that  is ablist, based on the assumption that to be able bodied is positive while disability is negative. (V1)

Reading this has made me question  if I need to investigate the assumptions in metaphor more thoroughly to consider how inclusive they are. (V1)

Two cut out cardboard magnifying glasses sit on a page of child's schoolwork.
The lens metaphor as seen at a school curriculum evening at my children’s school. The green lens is used for highlight areas for growth, while pink is to show up things to be proud of.

When searching for literature on this area I also found a paper (Saban 2006) on the function of metaphor in education which includes ideas on using metaphor as a way to reflect on professional development. This includes a study by Hoban (2000) where trainee teachers were encouraged to reflect on their class experiences  identify metaphors to “represent their conceptualizations of teaching and learning” for which one student came up with a playground metaphor. I like the idea that rather than using pre formed metaphors which may or may not have meaning for the students, such as mirrors or lens, in this exercise the students form there own analogies – which encourages them to think deeply about how they view their practice. It may also make them more questioning of the use of metaphor when they meet it in the education literature. (V3)

This is inspiring me to think of ways to share my interest in metaphor with my cohort and see if this approach would help them reflect on their own professional practice? Could I include an activity like the one described above? Perhaps this could be a way to open up a discussion on what ‘reflection’ is in professional practice?


Brookfield, S. (2017) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. 2nd Ed Jossey-Bass (Kindle Edition)

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (2003) Metaphors We Live By. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

McKnight L. & Whitburn, B.  (2017) The fetish of the lens: persistent sexist and ableist metaphor in education research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 30:9, 821-831, DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2017.1286407

Saban, A  (2006) Functions of Metaphor in Teaching and Teacher
Education: A review essay, Teaching Education, 17:4, 299-315, DOI: 10.1080/10476210601017386

Value 4: Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice

The possibilities of education are fundamentally altered by networked technologies that mean physical co-location of teachers and students is much less relevant to teaching and learning and that digital resources can be easily copied and shared. This is the key context of my professional practice and the practice of those I support through CMALT.

CMALT applicants must write for assessors beyond their institution-  including relevant context such as course level and student numbers.  In addressing “Core area 3: The Wider Context” they show understanding and engagement with legislation, policies and standards in relation to learning and technology. Several pieces of legislation are relevant to all staff working in HE: Data Protection, Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), Freedom of Information and Anti-Discrimination Law.  However candidates can struggle with this section as they don’t immediately see how these are impacting on their work. Or understand that some of the working practices in HE are dictated by legislation – e.g. they are aware that you can only copy fractions of a printed book for students but don’t realise this relates to CLA licences.   I started to host an annual CPD events on legislation open to anyone in the University community with invited speakers on aspects of the legislation and how his links to learning technology.

A CMALT Holders from the group, Nick Daniels  wrote about how this has influenced his practice:

“Putting together my CMALT portfolio helped me to take a step back from my work and think about how it fits into a wider context. For instance, I wrote in my portfolio about how considerations of copyright and open licensing changed the way we made MOOCs in our School.”

Certified membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) is primarily UK based with some international candidates – e.g. it partners with ASCILITE in Australasia. It is relevant to sectors beyond HE with holders, candidates and assessors are from Further Education (FE), schools and the skills sectors.

I am engaging with the wider ALT  community, I sit on the Membership Development Committee (MDC) and Conference Committee, and this broadens my perspective of learning and teaching in HE and associated sectors – encouraging me to think beyond my own institution.

Engaging with ALT as their professional body, broadens their awareness of the wider context.  I encourage them to attend the conferences, special interest groups or volunteer to sit on a committee.  As this wider experience will give them perspective on their work within the University of Edinburgh.

I encourage CMALT holders to assess for insights into other peoples work and the context of their institutions.

As someone running a successful CMALT cohort I am invited to speak  with other institutions who are planning cohorts:

  • 11/12/2017 I advised a member of staff from  Ulster University
  • 19/03/2018 I advised members of staff from the University of Strathclyde.

I’m also invited to contribute to schemes of other institutions:

Most schemes are opt in – applicants applying to join. However, Bournemouth CMALT group is for two teams of staff who have been brought together via an institutional restructure and staff felt they were required to do it. My impression was that this lack choice has had profound implications for the staff in Bournemouth.  To engage with professional practice staff need to feel ownership of this. To address this during the session I introduced an activity on ‘motivation’ to consider that while this was an institutional directive – there were also personal befits to taking part. Giving staff a chance to express their misgivings and frustrations seems to be helpful in allowing them to move forward – I received this feedback by email from Debbie a week after the session:

“PS member of staff who was a little negative – written up his intro statement! “

I have also presented about my CMALT work to the broader HE community e.g. Deepwell & Greig 2018 – which was positively received:

Me presenting at Digi Fest 18
Presenting at DigiFest 18

I have a role in helping staff to understand the wider context of their work, both in CMALT and in ELDeR. In ELDeR workshops  I talk with course and programme teams about what students will expect from the programme e.g. what their employment prospects will be. I’ve facilitated several ELDER workshops for courses with their own professional qualifications (medicine, nursing, vet) and CPD requirements that the university courses must meet.


Deepwell, M. &  Greig. S.  (2018)  Re-articulating what we value:  a new vision for Learning Technology professionals, DigiFest 2018

Value 3: Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and CPD

In my work I draw on a range of evidence sources, research, theory, expertise from colleagues and reflection on my own experience.

CMALT project was conceived in response to an institutional focus on developing digital capabilities in a learning and teaching context:

“Many more students benefiting from the Edinburgh experience (largely or entirely) in their own country – supported by deep international partnerships and world-leading online distance learning”

U of E Strategic Vision 2025

“enabling our staff to embrace new technologies as part of enhancing the learning experience, and to deliver prompt and effective feedback”

Strategic Plan 2012-2016

It was informed by Jisc’s Building Digital Capacity project based on the work from 2014 on developing digital literacies itself based on the outcomes of 12 institutional projects aimed to:

“to promote the development of coherent, inclusive approaches to digital capability across institutions of further and higher education” (Sheppard, 2014).

I spoke to ALT for advice when setting it up the CMALT scheme who introduced me to managers of  schemes at  The Bloomsbury Learning Environment (BLE) and University College London (UCL) so that I had informed evidence on which to base my decisions in setting up the scheme here (V3).

Sarah Sherman manager of the  BLE cohort shared her session plans and online course in Moodle so I could see the structure. We now speak regularly – it’s really helpful to talk to someone who understands the context but is outside of my institution and can be more objective about the situation (V3). We continue to work together as our schemes develop and have since presented together (Greig & Sherman, 2017a, 2017 b).

I sought advice from  Daphne Loads who run the U of E HEA scheme (EDTA) as this is a similar reflective  portfolio based submission also based round the UKPSF – to learn about how they support their candidates.  I invite Daphne to talk to CMALT applicants about reflection, as this is a difficult concept for applicants.  After the session I share references about reflective practice – these range from advice of (nd.) to the more scholarly Moon (n.d.) the guidance selected is pragmatic –  I want the students to move quickly to writing and come to understand reflection through that route, as well as via the theory (V3).

Learning Design is a new field with a strong base of theory and developing research which explores ways to “assist educators to describe effective teaching ideas so they can be shared with and adapted by, other educators”.  (Dalziel et al., 2016). Dalziel et al in the Larnaca Declaration (2016) use an analogy with the development of a standard music notation to allow musicians to share and reproduce musical ideas over time – suggesting the need to develop an ‘educational notation’ for a similar purpose. They define several aspects to Learning design:

  • Learning Design Conceptual Map (LC-CM)
  • Learning Design Framework (LD-F)
  • Learning Design Practice (LD-P)

My interpretation is that Learning design in both an approach for staff to consider their teaching (LD-P) and process for facilitating this (LD-F) and a way of making visible design approaches so they can be used and reused (LC-CM).

The U of E piloted a Learning Design Service the Edinburgh Learning Design roadmap (ELDeR) from 2015 having review several learning design frameworks, e.g.  ABC curriculum design model from UCL, it was decided to base our approach on CAIeRO (Creating Aligned Interactive educational Resource Opportunities) model by the University of Northampton which we were able to adapt and use under a creative commons licence.  This is a two day structured workshop for programme or course design attended by the teaching team.  I have facilitated workshops for courses and programmes in subject areas including. Medicine, Nursing, Law and Vet Medicine. Before the introduction of ELDeR it was very unusual at U of E  for programme or course design to be approached in this way – bringing staff together for two days can be a very intense experience and many of them struggle to clear their diaries for two days. Working over two days is beneficial – often teams are dispirited after the first day – but come back refreshed and rejuvenated for the second day. Problems identified on the first day seem more manageable after a nights sleep and they often return with suggested solutions.

A partially complete storyboard from an ELDeR course design workshop - postit notes are colopur coded Orange for the theme / topic Green for the learner activities Blue for tutor activity Yellow for assessments and feedback Pink for resources / content
A partially complete storyboard from an ELDeR course design workshop – postit notes are colopur coded Orange for the theme / topic
Green for the learner activities
Blue for tutor activity
Yellow for assessments and feedback
Pink for resources / content

I find the card sort exercise particularly helpful – I give participants Course Features cards which were created by the JISC-funded Open University Learning Design Initiative.  the task for each group is to pick the 6 cards that are most important to their teaching approach/concept. This is a great equaliser because it means that everyone is working from the same pedagogic vocabulary – it also means they argue with the terms on the card rather than with each other – depersonalising the experience.

The outcome of a "Look and feel" card sort exercise for a course design workshop.
The outcome of a “Look and feel” card sort exercise for a course design workshop where participants are asked to prioritise the 6 most important aspects.

Farmer, R.  & Usher. J (2018) reviewed use of CAIeRO over a 10 year period – CAIeRO itself was was derived from Carpe Diem developed 2002 allowing them to draw on a larger literature of review of both schemes. They conclude that Learning Design workshops go considerably beyond what is generally considered staff development and that they are transformative for participants – in that they encourage participants to reflect on and re-examine the way they teach. That aligns with my experience of  facilitating the workshops and with the positive feedback from attendees.

A pile of papers, books and a Kindle, Some of my reading material from the EDTA portfolio
Some of my reading material from the EDTA portfolio


ABC Learning Design. UCL. (accessed 17/07/18)

Dalziel, J, Conole, G. wills, S., Walker, S., Bennett, S., Dobozny, E., Cameron, L., Badilescu-Buga, E., Bower, M. (2016) “The Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design -2013” in Dalziel, J. (ED) Learning Design: conceptulizing a framework for teaching and learning online. Taylor & Francis, Oxon.

Friedman, A. & Phillips, M.(2004) Continuing professional development: Developing a vision, Journal of Education and Work, 17:3, 361-376  at

Greig, S. and Sherman, S (6 September 2017a) ALT Conference 2017 The CMALT “Zumba Class”: managing a cohort scheme for CMALT applicants to build institutional capacity for learning technology [1788]

Greig, S. and Sherman, S  (13 December 2017b) ALT Winter Conference 2017, The CMALT “Zumba Class”: managing a cohort scheme for CMALT applicants to build institutional capacity for learning technology [1213] Session recording available at

Farmer, R.  & Usher. J (2018) Why CAIeRO? Perceptions of ten years of CAIeRO at the University of Northampton. (nd.) What is Continuing Professional Development? (accessed 17/07/18)

JISC (2014) Developing Digital Literacies

Shepard, M. (2014) Jisc The Design Studio Developing digital literacies. (Accessed 17/07/18)

Moon, J. (n.d.) Resources for Reflective Learning

Value 2: Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners

My ELDeR workshop facilitation approaches are participatory –

  • bringing people together to work collaboratively
  • ensuring people are heard
  • encouraging different voices

I see my roles as to set up the activities and then to step back and listen – only to intervene to refocus the tasks or  keep time. I use techniques such as partner discussion which is then developed into group discussion to give everyone a chance to think and develop their contribution. Or I ask people to write thoughts on post-it notes individually before sharing these with the wider group to build in quiet reflection. I move groups around to get participants to work in different groupings – so they hear colleagues they might not normal speak too. (V2)

I have a role in promoting understanding of the wider context within the ELDeR workshops. We discuss widening participation, identifying barriers in their area. I give general advice on how to avoid building in barriers to participation such reliance on synchronous activities when students are based in different time zones, or provision of transcripts for video content to cater for students on low bandwidth or for whom English is a second language.  For online programmes where the VLE is the home of most of the activities accessibility for disabled students is particularly relevant and I explain the importance of and ways to create accessible materials.

Participants feedback that they find the ELDeR workshops helpful because the discussion activities let them work together to find consensus – they leave with a strong sense of ownership of the outcome of the sessions.

Group work taking place during an ELDeR workshop - for this large group I facilitated from the front while colleagues facilitated on each table
Group work taking place during an ELDeR workshop – for this large group I facilitated from the front while colleagues facilitated on each table

An approaches I take to CPD is bring together groups. I am influenced by ideas of community of Practice Wenger, E. (1998) (discussed in this post). In bringing together the CMALT group I want everyone to have equal opportunities to participate e.g.  there are parents and non-parents and people working full and part time on different parts of the campus. All of these are relevant in terms of who is included when meetings are arranged. Where possible the meeting are within a core day 10 to 4 so that they allow for pick up and drop of of children for those with care responsibilities. I also hold some meetings by webinar which are more flexible for people on different campuses.

The CMALT portfolio, “Core area 2: Teaching, learning and/or assessment processes” requires applicants to show that they understand their target learners.  I’ve found a tension for Learning Technologists between seeing themselves as supporting the students or academic staff that they support. If learning technologists see themselves as educators, not just service providers, they can better understand their role and it gives them a broader framework for identifying successful approaches.

For the last year I have been a Career Ready mentor – a scheme for school students in their final two years of high school who show potential.  They are matched with a mentor in employment for mentoring meetings and a 4 week work placement. The Career Ready scheme aims to widen participation in HE and FE, targeting students who would be the first in their family to attend university. I mentoring a student  considering a career in teaching.  In addition to mentoring, I arranged interview practice and  a 4 week work placement. This has been a great opportunity for my mentee and  an interesting CPD experience for me – e.g. I’ve investigated the school curriculum to understand my mentees exam choices and further study options. After the placement she is still considering a career in teaching and is exploring university options for undergraduate study leading to a PGDE later and has rethought her exam choices for the next year suggesting that this has been a positive and empowering experience for her (V2).

After my trip  I read a history of to the University of Virginia by  Bowman, R & Santos, C. (2015) which reminded me was that HE has historically been an elitist option open only to a limited group, predominately white heterosexual men from upper classes with money.  Until fairly recently women or people of colour were not welcome in HE, it is important to acknowledge this history and to promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners because these rights are hard won and need to be protected. Diversity brings different perspectives and a more accurate  representation of the world.


Bowman, R & Santos, C. (2015) Rot, Riot, and Rebellion: Mr. Jefferson’s Struggle to Save the University That Changed America. the University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and
identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Value 1: Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities

One of the four principles and values that inform the CMALT scheme (and to which portfolios are assessed) is:

An empathy with and willingness to learn from colleagues from different backgrounds and specialist options.

I demonstrate this to candidates with examples from submissions where it has not been met e.g. “shifting tutor perception” or “dealing with the unhelpful IT staff” are not respectful of the the perspectives of other professional colleagues.

At the CMALT meetings I aim to get the group to form a supportive respectful network. I hope that working towards CMALT together will build empathy by humanising people and going beyond stereotyped view of job roles or institutional silos  what “a librarian” or “an academic” is like and what they do. It gives an opportunity to see that learning and teaching practice is not confined to academic lecturing roles. It offers opportunities to learn non-mainstream ideas of teaching and learning from others for e.g. those specialising in distance education or working in different disciplines.

To create a respectful open forum I start every meeting with introductions,  including a  question  to assess their current understanding and  expectations so I can address these. I model the kind of interactions I want to encourage – thanking people for their contributions and encourage people to build on each and make connections between what others say. I set the room so we all sit round a table and start with introductions because I want everyone to be equal within this group.

Example of a slide I display during the round of introductions to prompt participants.
Example of a slide I display during the round of introductions to prompt participants.

I send anonymous evaluations after every session and so  participants have a way to feed back safely if they didn’t feel they could say it at the time.

The CMALT participants are a  diverse cross section of people from across the University: professional services staff, administrators, librarians and academic staff who work at different levels in the institutional hierarchy. There is a range of ages and varying levels of experience.  In writing this blog and thinking about the Equality Act 2010 and the 9 protected characteristics :

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership (in employment only)
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

My small group (33) is a diverse microcosm of the university,  I am  mindful that people are not required to disclose characteristics so it is my job to  be aware. Also, recent conversations with a colleague reminded me that the protected characteristics do not include other types of diversity such as class and socio-economic status.

One member of the group has a declared disability (ADHD) and has requested reasonable adjustments. We worked together to decide what adjustments would be benefit them. Group meetings were challenging  – so we have shorter more focused 1-to-1 meetings instead. They found the CMALT guidelines overwhelming and requested something more ‘step-by-step’ so I wrote a Week By Week Plan, which I have since shared with the rest of the group.

The group includes members from different cultures and countries and several for whom English is not their first language.  I try to be mindful of cultural context e.g. we define all terms as we meet them to make sure everyone has the same interpretation. There are people of both male and female genders and one person who prefers not be be defined as either – so I an careful in use of personal pronouns and in taking cues from how others describe themselves. (V1)

ELDeR workshops also have a mixed group of professionals in attendance and I approach these with the same care and respect.  Institutional hierarchy can be relevant within the sessions – there can be obvious power dynamics. It’s differs as I only work with ELDeR groups for a two days while I have longer to form relationships with the CMALT applicants.

Earlier this year I attended the “Innovations in Pedagogy Summit”  at the University of Virginia as part of an ERASMUS training visit (I’ve blogged about this here). The theme was “Creating Inclusive Classrooms: Shifting from Thinking to Doing” and the keynote presentation for this was a theatrical performance given by the the University of Michigan’s CRLT Players.

We watched a group of students performing scenarios around experiences of inclusion. This was framed by an excellent facilitator who set groudrules for our participation and got us to work through a series of reflective exercises around each piece. This was really powerful, the students were excellent performers and there was something much more real about watching the scenarios acted out by students who could ‘be’ the characters they are playing.

I felt myself reacting personally to watching the young woman’s contribution being casually belittled by a well meaning professor. ‘Oh’ I thought ‘That’s how it happens’ – I recognise that.

In another sketch – a young man was asked by his German language teacher to say a sentence about who he loved – when he referred to the person loved as ‘he’ – the teacher corrected the gender to ‘she’. But the student hadn’t made a mistake.

I vividly remember the sketch in which an Asian man expresses his inner dialogue when confronted with engaging with the aggressive discussion style of a US tutorial.

It was very moving and thought provoking watching a young Black man reacting to the barrage of ‘microagressions’ – ranging from misplaced humour to outright abuse he received over a period of time.

Watching people perform was more engaging than hearing the scenarios read out or watching videos. Having the student performers in the room was an  important part of this experience.

Being an outsider in that event –  made it a great deal easier – as it uncomfortable. It must have been very intense for the UVa staff.  I’ve not attended anything at UoE that addressed homophobia, sexism or racism so directly. Some comments were thoughtless not malicious but very hurtful to the recipients. In response to this I am reviewing my practice and being additional mindful of my own behaviour.

Bring together learning communities – fostering communities of practice

Much of my work over the last 10 years has focused on bringing staff at the Uof E together around areas of common interest and supporting and encouraging them to learn together. I  set up institutional user groups for the Online Distance Learning Community, the Learn User Group and Virtual Classroom/Meeting User Group.

I was influenced by the concept “Communities of Practice (CoP)” as described by  Wenger, E. (1998)  whose work I read when I was studying for my PGCert in Professional Education and which I realise, has influenced my practice ever since. Wenger, E. (1998) describes how groups of people working on an area of shared interest are brought together as a community working towards a shared goal and how this community can develop it’s own ways of working and supporting new members.  My understanding from this is that you can’t ‘make’ a CoP – this develops from the shared common interest. However you can ‘nurture’ a group that is forming around an area of interest.

Undertaking CMALT can be an individual endeavour but we decided to use the cohort approach as this encourages the formation of supportive networks. These connections take a variety of forms:

  • Connecting different roles, for example administrative, teaching and support staff – to enable the observation of cultural working practices.
  • Building relationships across various models of support e.g. centrally and locally deployed services – to negotiate mutual understanding of experience.
  • Providing role models for staff new to the institution and/or to learning technology – to support legitimate peripheral participation.
  • By providing visible, funded, CPD support for Learning Technology staff it is hoped to retain talent and to attract people to the University, as the destination of choice for staff with learning technology skills – creating legitimate space for participation and supporting community growth.

The idea is that in this workplace context, participants are much more likely to make connections between the theory and their situated practice, and to be able to action change in their practice.

Supporting the CMALT cohort

Diagram of the CMALT Support Plan
Diagram of the CMALT Support Plan

This diagram show the model of support I use comprised of regular meetings (f2f and webinars) and half day writing retreats (organised with support from the Institute for Academic Development) for cohort members. I also organised open events on ‘Key Issues’ – these are areas relevant beyond the CMALT cohort and part of the rationale for holding them is to encourage professional networking and building relationships across the University.

I send out evaluation surveys after every session and was interested to get mixed feedback for some of the elements. The writing retreats where regarded as really helpful for the majority of the group but a couple of participants really disliked this format – “why would I come to the University to sit in silence when I could do this at home” said one (who had a long journey onto the campus) unimpressed by the community aspect so valued by others in the group.

CMALT cohort participants sit round desks at a writing retreat
CMALT cohort participants in silent writing at a writing retreat

In the first group one participant attend none of the offered meetings after the initial introductory session and still successfully submitted their portfolio at the next assessment window. I was surprised because its so different from my own approach! I like working with a group so I was assuming everyone did. I’ve come to accept that not everyone learns in the same way or approaches the same task in the same way.  This is something I ‘knew’ in terms of theory but didn’t enact in terms of the way I approach my practice. I realise that I hold an assumption that other people like to learn in the same way that I do:

  • Little and often
  • Small chunks
  • Find discussion helpful for forming ideas

On reflection, it may not have been that the applicant didn’t want to be part of a CoP but rather they were already part of a well established group in their own subject area, which is based on a different campus.  They were not looking for support and as an experienced member of staff may not have wanted to provide this to less experienced staff in the group.

I was surprised that a large number of my cohort have not yet completed their portfolios – in the first year there were 23 applicants, with 11 in the second year.  So far 13 have successfully completed, 1 has failed and 3 have withdrawn.  This leaves 17 participants who have yet to make a submission. Several have had to deal with unforeseen challenges, job changes, health issues or additional care responsibilities. Initially it really surprised that people without a high level of commitment to following it through. Though after discussion with my mentor, I realise its possible that they may just have had unrealistic expectations of what CMALT entailed.


Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and
identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Reflecting on reflection part 1

I’m interested in the idea of metaphor to aid understanding. A few years ago a colleague recommended that I read ‘Metaphors we live by’ by Lakoff, G and Johnson, M (2003), which opened my eyes to the power of metaphor and the way it can thread unquestioned through our language and underpins and influences our conceptual understandings.

When selecting  images to represent reflection in Continued Professional Development (CPD)   show beautiful landscapes reflected in clear pools of water, sharp outlines duplicated in each half of the picture. And I’m not alone – see  the examples below :

From Cover of Book 2nd Edition of "Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher" by Stephen D. Brookfield
2nd Edition of “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher” by Stephen D. Brookfield
Front Cover of Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice by Jennifer A. Moon
Front Cover of Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice by Jennifer A. Moon

I’m guilty of collecting these images myself, believing that they were a useful visual aid to the concept of reflection – I guess I’m still deeply influenced  by my own initial discipline training which was in Fine Art. They are beautiful and contemplative but as a metaphor for reflection – misleading.  They better represent description, the accurate representation of things as they currently are. I wonder if this is part of the conceptual problem that participant in my CMALT cohort have with the idea of reflection?

Trees reflected onto a still pond
A photo I took to illustrate reflection in presentations

“Lack of reflection” is the number one reason that CMALT portfolios are returned for further work. I can see from my participants that its not lack of effort so much as lack of understanding that causes this.

In a determined effort to meet the criteria I have seen participants add headings throughout their portfolios to remind them: Description, Evidence, Reflection. My observation is that this is not a successful – what tends to happen is they provide more detailed description under the heading of reflection. The problem is not effort – it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what reflective writing is and of what the assessors are expecting to see here. As someone  supporting applicants I see it as my job to better explain this concept and direct them to sources that will help them to understand the concept. The use of this common sense image of reflection may be causing confusion rather than helping.

What I understand to be reflection in the context of the CMALT portfolio is:

The assessors want to see that you think about your work and that your practice develops over time. That you understand your subject and can make connections between the theory and your (and others) practice. The assessors want to know about your values, what drives you and is important to you. If, as an assessor,  I don’t get a sense of ‘who’ the person is when I read the portfolio, I don’t think there is enough reflection – you need to put some of yourself in there.

A picture of a person gazing into a mirror maybe more helpful- because its the consideration of self that is more important than showing an accurate facsimile.

I discussed this with my mentor and he suggested “refraction”  as a better metaphor, the way things change as they move through different surfaces, which led us to the ‘lens’ metaphor which I discuss in a subsequent post.

In order to address my cohorts understanding of reflection. I have invited an expert speaker to come and talk to the cohort to explain what this is and what is expected.

I’ve also put together a reflection pack with a journal and stickers. The  aim of this is to encourage participants to reflect over a period of time, so that it becomes part of their daily practice. The stickers include a list of the portfolio areas and reflection questions to act as prompts. Participants report finding these helpful.

Reflection Packs - including notebooks and stickers
Reflection Packs – including notebooks and stickers


Brookfield, S. (2017) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. 2nd Ed Jossey-Bass (Kindle Edition)

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (2003) Metaphors We Live By. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Moon, J. (2000) Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice. RoutledgeFalmer. Oxon.

My current role and how it relates to teaching and learning

I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) which I gained in 2007 on completion of a  PG Certificate in Professional Education at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.  I completed my CMALT accreditation in 2009 and reviewed my portfolio in 2016.

Learning technology support in a modern university is closely entwined with support for learning and teaching. In the past it has been considered as a bolt-on or specialist interest but digital skills for teaching are becoming ubiquitous. You can’t enter a teaching space on campus without finding a data projector, computer a lecture recording equipment and teaching takes place both f-2-f and online and in blends of both.  My job title is “Learning Technology Advisor” and I work in a  team called Educational Design and Engagement within the directorate of Learning Teaching and Web Services, within the Information Services Group at the University of Edinburgh.  I’ve been in this role for over 10 years, and while my specific focus changes and develops over time a main part of this is to offer advice and guidance to Academic and Professional Services staff on appropriate use of technology to sound pedagogic principles, in wide range of contexts including campus based, blended and online distance learning . Please see my CV for more context.

I have supported a changing and developing portfolio of tools and services over the years, most recently including Question Mark Perception, which is used for high stakes summative assessment, Collaborate Ultra for meetings and teaching and Social Media tools for Learning and teaching, which includes an excellent online course called 23 Things for Digital Knowledge.

For over two years I’ve been working on a Project “Providing professional development for learning technologists via CMALT cohort“ (Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology). To date,  15 professionals accredited via the scheme making U of E the UK institution with the largest number of current CMALT holders (V4)

This relates to teaching and learning in several ways,  it is the part of my job  where I do the most “teaching” in the traditional sense, planning and delivering workshops, giving feedback on drafts,  mentoring and encouraging applicants through the process.

CMALT candidates writing during a meeting
CMALT candidates writing during a meeting

CMALT is a portfolio assessment  based on an applicant’s previous experience of working with learning technology (minimum 2 years). Candidates write a portfolio showing how they address four core areas and a specialist area of practice and how that their professional practice align with the principles and values of the scheme. The flexible framework is appropriate for staff in a variety of roles, including technical, academic and leadership.

The CMALT portfolio structure is:

Contextual statement
Core area 1: Operational issues
a) An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technologies
b) Technical knowledge and ability in the use of learning technology
c) Supporting the deployment of learning technologies

Core area 2: Teaching, learning and/or assessment processes
a) An understanding of teaching, learning and/or assessment processes
b) An understanding of your target learners

Core area 3: The Wider Context
a) Understanding and engaging with legislation, policies and standards
b) Policy

Core area 4: Communication and working with others
Specialist Option(s)
Future Plans

In each area the candidate must frame their response within their experience of technology used for learning teaching and assessment. It is vital that candidates relate their experience to the context – for example its not enough to show you understand the constraints and benefits of a technology in technical terms (capacity, scalability, reliability) if you don’t also explain the  constraints and benefits in learning and teaching context (context, level,  applicability to learning outcomes).

I support candidates to reflect on their own experience of teaching, learning and assessment and to consider how their roles directly effect this.  For example a CMALT candidate is an Academic working on an online distance learning programme – for their students the University of Edinburgh experience is via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and they have come to realise how much control they have over this space (V2).

I’m a CMALT Lead Assessor which has given me experience assessing, writing feedback and working with other assessors. I’m a committee member of the ALT Membership Development Committee , who oversea the CMALT scheme.

I facilitate Edinburgh Learning Design Roadmap (ELDeR)  workshops to design or revise courses or programmes.

Learning Design workshops bring together course teams for two days to looking at values, writing learning outcomes to the appropriate SQFA level in the U of E agreed format and then exploring how these can be assessed.  At the Programme level workshops participants leave with a storyboard of courses within the programme structure.  At the end of the course level workshop the team has a storyboard of the course by themes, activities (student and tutor), feedback and assessment. These workshops are highly interactive and discursive, focusing on building a shared vision within the teams.

Learning design is different from, but related to, curriculum design.  I discuss its heritage in  this post on V3. It focused on the activities that form part of the learning process from the perspective of all of the participants e.g. what will the students be doing, what will the lecturer or tutor be doing.  Initially these were developed for online programmes but are now requested by on campus too.

Learning technologists facilitate these as we can provide advice on ‘how to make this happen’ and can see beyond domain-specific traditions. Academics on a law programme I worked with  found it hard to consider other approaches beyond reading as they were convinced ‘that’s how lawyers learn’. Nursing programmes were very keen on reflective portfolios but were less convinced students could learn by reading unless it was related to practice (V1, V4). Learning technologies come from a range of backgrounds and often bring experience of working for other disciplines so we can offer examples from different disciples.

Me discussing a storyboard with a programme team at a Learning Design Workshop.
Me discussing a storyboard with a programme team at a Learning Design Workshop.



ALT (2016) CMALT guidelines  (PDF).

CMALT and Other Frameworks : This page links to a mapping of CMALT to the UKPSF